Governor Steve Beshear gave the axe today to Janie Miller, Secretary of Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS). In the official press release announcing the move, Beshear announced that Miller “has resigned her position, effective Feb. 29, to seek other opportunities.” “Resigning to seek other opportunities”—with no reference to any new job awaiting—is, of course, bureaucratese for “getting canned.” It’s the governmental equivalent to, “He resigned to spend more time with his family.”
Lots of folks—CHFS’ 8000 employees included—are going to be tempted to say “good riddance to bad rubbish.” Miller’s tenure at CHFS has been marked by repeated scandals, devastating litigation, and an almost pathological penchant for secrecy. The examples of incompetence and mismanagement within the agency are as notorious as they are legion.
In a perfectly marvelous op-ed piece appearing in Tuesday’s Courier-Journal, Tyler Gill, Circuit Judge for Todd and Logan counties, comes down pretty hard on the CFHS:
“In confidential cases, Cabinet lawyers can take action against the interest of the very citizens it is supposed to protect. The Cabinet is directed by statute to protect children, the mentally ill and the elderly. Over the years, I have observed an infrequent but persistent pattern of bizarre actions by lawyers and high-level officials employed by the Cabinet for Families and Children that occur almost exclusively in confidential cases such as juvenile cases, termination of parental rights and involuntarily hospitalizations. Secrecy allows people to do things in ways that they would not dare do in a public setting.”
Judge Gill writes that his experience over the years, involving CHFS litigation, has led him to the conclusion that “... the Cabinet is consumed with a bureaucratic mentality and an institutional incompetence instilled by Cabinet leaders.” He places much of the blame for this problem on the influence of “…a small group of senior Cabinet lawyers.” He observes that CHFS employees are directed to blindly follow internally created “guidelines;” ignoring all else. “The guidelines are to be followed whether or not doing so hurts children, the mentally ill, the elderly or the public. Reason, pleading, common sense, and sometimes not even a court order can dissuade a Cabinet supervisor from strictly following these guidelines,” he says.
And anyone who has ever had any dealings with CHFS—this writer included—will heartily agree with Judge Gill’s punchline: “The Cabinet has become a law unto itself.”
There can be no question that Gov. Beshear did the right thing by firing Miller. The only questions lingering are: (1) “Why did it take him so long to get rid of her?”; and (2) “When will the governor get around to firing Tina Heavrin, CHFS General Counsel?”
Of course, the governor felt compelled to say something nice about Janie Miller, after showing her to the door. “Janie Miller has done extraordinary work in an especially difficult time. In the depths of an economic recession, more and more Kentuckians turned to CHFS for needed services, and Sec. Miller found ways to meet those needs despite the challenges of a very lean budget,” said Gov. Beshear. “I am grateful for her tireless service.” That’s the way things are done, at the upper levels of HR-speak.
Current CHFS Deputy Secretary Eric Friedlander, who has worked for the agency since 1985, will serve as interim Secretary of the Cabinet. Gov. Beshear is initiating a search for a new Secretary.
As we indicated, one of the remaining questions is if and when Gov. Beshear will fire CHFS General Counsel, Tina Heavrin. Ms. Heavrin has been closely linked to Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson for most of her political career (she sports a fleur-de-lis tattoo on her shoulder), and served as his Director of Law when he was mayor of Louisville. She is also listed as General Counsel for a Limited Liability Company called “Abramson, LLC,” which has a postal address of 2595 Pawnee Village Rd., Birmingham, Alabama. The business information website Zoominfo.com reports that the company has 250-500 employees, and yearly revenues of between 5 and 10 million dollars. Ms. Heavrin is married to Louisville’s former 3rd District U.S. Representative, Democrat Mike Ward.
At the end of Abramson’s term as Louisville Metro Mayor, Heavrin was hired by the Beshear administration as CFHS General Counsel; despite the fact that she had a history of intimate involvement in most of the Abramson administration’s major scandals. For example, Heavrin and Abramson once referred to a local firm of investment bankers as “a bunch of crooks,” and got slapped with a nasty defamation lawsuit. Calling a banker a crook is pretty serious business, and if you can’t prove it, you should be ready to pay some heavy damages.
After protracted litigation, the City of Louisville settled the defamation lawsuit for more than a million dollars; none of which came out of the pockets of Heavrin or Abramson. The money came out of the pockets of Louisville’s taxpayers.
Heavrin has served as a close legal advisor to CHFS Secretary Janie Miller, and was involved in many of the agency’s current boondoggles; such as the recent order issued by Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd, charging CHFS to reimburse legal costs of about $67,500 and fines of about $10,000 to The Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald Leader, as a result of the CHFS decision to illegally withhold records requested by the newspapers. Tina’s total cost to Louisville and Kentucky taxpayers is far in excess of her salary.
It’s hard to improve upon the admonition contained at the end of Judge Gill’s op-ed: “I urge Gov. Beshear to stop listening to the Cabinet’s lawyers and to start battling for the people of Kentucky. Our children deserve an open and accountable government.”
FULL DISCLOSURE: Like everyone, my opinions and judgments are based upon my life experiences. As a practicing attorney, I have represented numerous clients—mostly daycare centers—in litigation battles with CFHS and its predecessor agencies over the years. I have taken depositions and cross-examined many of the administrators and high-ranking bureaucrats at CHFS, and have found them to be, almost without exception, mendacious and incompetent. Space does not permit me to list the myriad real-life examples which have led me to the inescapable conclusion that CFHS is not only the most mismanaged agency of state government, but one that borders upon being a criminal enterprise.
Mary Christina Heavrin Ward—professionally known as “Tina Heavrin”—is an old family friend. At least she was, until she fired me as Legal Advisor to the Louisville Police Department 20 years ago; presumably at the behest of Mayor Jerry Abramson. Any animosity I may have felt toward her at the time has dissipated over the years into mere disappointment, and I feel I can write about her with at least a modicum of objectivity.
Oh, and one of the investment bankers who nailed Tina and Jerry in the million dollar defamation lawsuit later became one of my legal clients. Small world.
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